Our Just Deserts


“You deserve a break today,” the old MacDonalds ad declared. And interestingly, the idea of “you deserve” seems to have taken hold in the advertising world. At least among advertisers on Christian radio.

I hear it all the time (and I only have the radio on for a half hour a day). You deserve better than what your insurance company will give you, so contact such and such a lawyer. You deserve a fair adjustment to your mortgage, so contact such and such a firm. You deserve to be happy so contact such and such a counseling agency.

I suspect that “you deserve to be happy” line is at the root of most of this thinking. And it’s straight from the US Declaration of Independence, isn’t it? Here’s the line, recorded in the second section of the document:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So I notice a couple problems. While the founding fathers of the soon-to-be United States mentioned the “pursuit of happiness,” today’s popular understanding seems to interpret this as achieved happiness. Plus, those drafting the Declaration referred to “rights.” Are “rights” the same as “deserts”?

According to my on-line dictionary, the noun form of this word (when not referring to arid land 😉 ) means “a person’s worthiness or entitlement to reward or punishment.”

So the idea we are deserving … of fair treatment or of equity or of happiness would seem to carry with it the idea that something about us makes these good things our due. We must either have done something to earn them or we must be something to earn them.

Clearly, in the ads I’ve been listening to, the implication is the latter. You’ve been in an accident, but your insurance company only wants you to see one of their doctors because they are dedicated to paying out as little money as possible. But you deserve more.

My question: What about being in an accident entitles anyone to more?

But apart from the logic, I look at what the Bible says about what we deserve, and I get a completely different picture.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

So what I deserve is death. What God gives me as a free gift is eternal life in Christ. Where is entitlement in any of that?

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Published in: on July 27, 2009 at 9:10 am  Comments (9)  
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